By Patrick Straub and Mira Brody
In Big Sky, water is as much a part of our needs, as it is our lifestyle. From the powder white snowpack on Lone Mountain that we float on, to the churning Gallatin River providing endless rapids for adrenaline-charged summer days, it’s the element that most defines the community and what makes us love living here.
For over a decade, Peter Manka, owner of Alpine Water, has been appreciating the joys of immersing himself in every form of water, all the while implementing the latest science and technology to enrich its benefits for local homeowners and businesses. With a master’s degree in water resources and a dedication to health and well-being, he carefully considers the constantly progressing science necessary to design systems that provide clean, healthy water in our homes and businesses as well as ensures its preservation in our unique ecosystem.
Peter, his wife Ellie and their three daughters, were thrilled at the opportunity to finally settle in Big Sky in 2008. Attracted by the small town community and the pace of life embraced by its inhabitants, he also observed something unique about Big Sky.
“We don’t dump our wastewater in the river, we treat it and recycle it,” Manka says. “Water systems like ours are rare in this country and on this planet. We make every effort to complete the water cycle right here in Big Sky to avoid passing our waste to the next downstream user like most towns do.”
Conscious of the knowledge and experience he could bring to the table, he soon became involved with the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District by studying Big Sky’s water system and attending BSWSD board meetings.
At the time, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality was mandating that Big Sky Water and Sewer disinfect Big Sky’s high quality drinking water wells with chlorine. Manka was impressed by the thoughtfulness and consideration of the BSWSD staff and board members in their willingness to embrace his suggestions for cleaner, healthier and more efficient technologies than what are typically employed by most municipalities. The Water and Sewer District was ultimately able to permit and install the first municipal ultraviolet treatment system in the state of Montana. This system has the potential to save the equivalent of over 20,000 gallons of chlorine bleach from being injected into the homes and watered onto the lawns and golf courses of Big Sky every year, keeping Big Sky’s water clean and free of toxins.
“UV isn’t the solution all the time,” says Manka. “For each water system’s issues, there’s not just one solution. Every system and every treatment project must be custom tailored to the needs of the user. Every water quality solution that you craft has numerous possible approaches, that’s why it’s so important to carefully consider all of the factors involved to arrive at the most efficient and effective solution.”
Manka took inspiration from the UV treatment project and continued to explore advancements in water treatment technology through his water engineering company, Alpine Water. His continual research and investigation put him at the forefront of technologies that promoted efficient use of this precious resource while maintaining or even improving the extremely high quality, healthy drinking water that Big Sky is so fortunate to have.
“Big Sky’s water was voted the best tap water in America,” says Manka. “My goal is to improve that water quality rather than degrade it by introducing toxins or foreign substances into the water. Ultimately, how good is clean looking water, if it’s not healthy to drink?”
As he continued to work with the water in Big Sky, Manka observed that the salt-based water softening systems that were commonly used in the area wasted large quantities of water while removing the healthy minerals, replacing them with sodium and creating slimy feeling, salty water in the process. Again, he researched the latest advancements in water science and discovered that there were new technologies that treated water hardness without wasting water or degrading water quality.
He began implementing these systems in residential homes in Big Sky and it soon became evident that the benefits to the homeowner and the local environment were impressive. He then partnered with larger commercial systems such as Lone Mountain Ranch, River Rock Lodge, Rainbow Ranch and Lone Mountain Land Company’s commercial developments in the Town Center and the benefits were even more staggering.
The innovative water softening system that he implemented at the Residence Inn by Marriott Big Sky, Wilson Hotel, for example, saves millions of gallons of water and prevents hundreds of thousands of pounds of imported salt from ending up in Big Sky’s water treatment ponds and ultimately being watered onto Big Sky’s golf courses every few years. In Big Sky’s closed loop system, where the water that is consumed ultimately has to be reused or dispersed in some fashion, the least impactful system is critical.
In addition to saving water and protecting the environment, project developers have realized large savings in upfront as well as operations and maintenance expenses by implementing these efficient systems. Residential users can save over 10,000 gallons of water and 1,000 pounds of salt every year, which results in annual cost savings of $500 or more. These are truly impressive numbers when you multiply them by the number of water users in Big Sky.
“People live here because they want clean air and clean water… It’s a privilege to be a part of the crucial phases of the development of this amazing community and help create an environment in which residents and families can thrive.”
– Peter Manka
“We call this a win-win-win. It saves money, while maintaining healthy water and benefiting the water resources that are so vital to the Big Sky community,” Manka says.
Water disinfection and softening aren’t the only water quality issues that Big Sky residents can potentially face. Arsenic, iron, fine sediments and the often-prevalent rotten-egg smell are all water quality problems that are common to the water wells outside of the Big Sky Water District. Manka uses his background in science and extensive experience to design innovative, efficient, clean and healthy systems to treat all of these issues.
Other local businesses Alpine Water has worked with include Moonlight Basin, the Spanish Peaks Club, the Yellowstone Club, workforce housing, as well as ranches, homesteads, apartments and residential homes. Manka and his team pride themselves on being accessible to the community and harnessing the ability to tailor their skills to all needs—no matter how big or small the project.
Alpine Water’s success in Big Sky isn’t a mystery. Manka is active in the local community and understands the area and its environment intimately. With his targeted, analytical approach to designing water quality systems, each system can enhance a homeowner’s health while mitigating environmental impacts and with the confidence of committed service and long-term viability available locally. Alpine Water’s systems aim to be maintenance and chemical free, eliminating the need for costly service calls from the Gallatin Valley and with no toxic chemicals being used, the resultant water optimizes the health of its consumer.
“People live here because they want clean air and clean water … It’s rewarding,” Manka says of his work. “There is a sense in this community that you can be involved and help guide development in a conscious direction. It’s a privilege to be a part of the crucial phases of the development of this amazing community and help create an environment in which residents and families can thrive.”
Services offered by Alpine Water
- Salt-free Water Softening
- High-Efficiency Arsenic, Iron, Sulphur and Sediment Removal
- Chlorine-free Disinfection and Bacteria Removal
- Detergent-free Laundry Systems
- Enhanced Drinking Water and Water Activator Systems
- Residential, Commercial and Public Water System Design, Implementation and Montana State Certified Water System Operation